Kiwi is the brand name of a shoe polish, first launched and sold in Australia in 1906 and as of 2005 sold in almost 180 countries. Previously owned by the Sara Lee Corporation since 1984, it was sold in 2011 to S. C. Johnson. It is the dominant shoe polish in some countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, where it has about two-thirds of the market.
While a number of older leather preserving products existed, Kiwi’s invention in 1906 made it the first shoe polish to resemble the modern varieties, aimed primarily at inducing shine. Ramsay and fellow Scottish expatriate Hamilton McKellar began making boot polish in a small factory in 1904 in Melbourne, Australia.They developed and improved their new formula and Ramsay launched the product in 1906 and began marketing it in Melbourne. Ramsay loaded boxes of the polish on his horse and cart and sold it to farmers to protect their boots.
Kiwi was a major improvement on previous brands. It preserved shoe leather, made it shine, and restored colour. By the time Kiwi Dark Tan was released in 1908, it incorporated agents that added suppleness and water resistance. Australian-made boot polish was then considered the world’s best. A range of colours became available, and exports to Britain, continental Europe, and New Zealand began.
A rival brand of the time was Cobra Boot Polish, based in Sydney. Cobra was noted for a series of cartoon advertisements in The Sydney Bulletin, starting in 1909, using a character called “Chunder Loo of Akim Foo”.
The spread of Kiwi shoe polish around the world enhanced the popular appeal of the kiwi as New Zealand’s national symbol.